Fela (Fela Anikulapo Kuti) , (born Oct. 15, 1938, Abeokuta, Nigeria—died Aug. 2, 1997, Lagos, Nigeria), Nigerian musician and activist who , launched a modern African-based music called afro-beat, which fuses American blues, jazz, and funk with traditional Yoruba music. From the late 1960s he used his music as a vehicle to protest oppression by Nigeria’s military governments and became one of the most celebrated stars of Africa. The firebrand singer, who gyrated over the keyboard as he sang in “broken English” and Yoruba, struck a chord among the unemployed, disadvantaged, and oppressed. Born Fela Ransome Kuti, he was the son of feminist and labour activist Funmilayo Kuti. As a youth he took lessons in piano and percussion before studying (1959) classical music at Trinity College, London, where he encountered various musical styles by playing piano in jazz and rock bands. Returning to Nigeria in the mid-1960s, he formed the band from which the afro-beat sound evolved. Following his 1969 tour of the United States, where he was influenced by the politics of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other militants, he used his music to enact political change in such songs of social protest as “Zombie,” “Monkey Banana,” “Beasts of No Nation,” and “Upside Down.” Fela and Egypt 80, his 27-member band, performed for packed houses at the early-morning concerts they staged at Fela’s often-raided nightclub in Lagos. His politically charged songs prompted authorities to routinely raid his club, looking for reasons to jail Fela. Near there he also set up a communal compound, which he proclaimed the independent Kalakuta Republic. As head of the commune, he often provoked controversy and attracted attention by promoting indulgence in sex, polygamy (he married his harem of 27 women), and drugs, especially marijuana. A 1977 raid on the complex by Nigerian authorities resulted in his brief incarceration and the death of his mother from a fall. In exile in Ghana in 1978, he changed his name from Ransome to the tribal Anikulapo. In 1979 Fela formed a political party, the Movement of the People, and ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of Nigeria. Five years later he was jailed for 20 months on charges of currency smuggling. Upon his release, he turned away from active political protest and left his son, Femi, to carry the torch of afro-beat music. Fela was jailed again in 1993 for murder, but the charges were eventually dropped.
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